Born to Remember
Dr. Fred Reif was one of over 900 Jewish refugees who left Germany aboard the St. Louis on May 13, 1939, with a landing certificate to Cuba. When they arrived at Cuba, they were denied entry. At the last minute, England, Belgium, Holland, and France agreed to admit the passengers. The Reif family went to France, which was overrun by the Nazis, and their ordeal continued.
Dr. Fredrick Reif was born in Vienna, Austria. His mother, Clara Gottfried Reif was born in Poland and she met Dr. Gerson Reif, a dentist, during a vacation to Vienna. They were married and Fred was born April 24, 1927, his sister, Dr. Liane Reif-Lehrer, was born 7 ½ years later.
When the Germans annexed Austria in 1938, they effectively prevented Jewish dentists from practicing. Gerson had a sister, Mrs. Lena Klinghoffer, who lived in the US and they contacted her hoping to go there. At that time, the US quota system was based on country of origin. Both Gerson and Clara were born in Poland and they were told it would be two or three years until their number came up. Dr. Gerson Reif became desperate; he felt like a trapped animal and he would silently stand for hours looking out of a window. Fred would stand next to his father and hold his hand. One September day in 1938 Fred remembers his father was due home early in the day. Hour after hour ticked by and his father did not come home. Gerson killed himself by jumping off of a building.
Only a few months later, on November 9 and 10, Fred remembered, Kristalnacht. His teacher came into class and told everyone to go home. He made it home watching Torahs being dragged through the streets. There was a loud knock on the door and three people including the superintendent of their building came into their home. They went through the Reif’s drawers taking whatever they wanted.
Money was getting tight. Jews were being persecuted.
Always the same questions, “How do you get out?“ “Where do go?“
A friend’s father told Clara that they were going to go to Cuba and that Cuba was accepting refugees. The Reif family could go to Cuba and live freely while waiting for their US quota number to come up.
Clara contacted Mrs. Kinghoffer who generously purchased entrance certificates to Cuba and tickets for the SS. St. Louis, a German luxury ship that was to leave Hamburg Germany and arrive in Havana, Cuba.
On May 13, 1939, the Reif family began their voyage as first class passengers aboard the Saint Louis. They were among 937 passengers (over 900 were Jewish) thrilled to be leaving the Nazi’s net.
Life looked promising for the Reifs. Or did it?
On May 27, 1939 the Reifs were told to get up early and be ready to disembark. They were ecstatic as they packed their bags and prepared for life in Cuba.
Once again, time tick away for Fred. Only 28 passengers were allowed to disembark. Cuban police and immigration officials boarded the St. Louis. The immigration officials left the ship; the police remained aboard. Days passed and the refugees were not allowed to leave the St. Louis.
The St. Louis turned and headed towards Germany.
The mood on the ship was dismal. One man slit his wrists. The great food was gone. The Reifs had abandoned their apartment. What would happen to them next? Would they be taken to concentration camps?
The Joint and several other agencies, negotiated with several countries, each of whom agreed to take a portion of the refugees:
Holland – 181
After being a month at sea, the St. Louis docked in Antwerp.
Clara, Fred and Liane Reif were among the group who went to France. Unfortunately, as we know, the Nazis soon occupied Northern France and the Reif’s ordeal continued....
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